Solar technology earns Harish Hande a place in the sun

What started as an experiment to promote a sustainable model for rural electrification has today won Harish Hande the Ramon Magsaysay Award for 2011.

Hailing from Kota near Udupi, this 44-year-old entrepreneur has been honoured with the award by the Ramon Magsaysay Foundation for “his pragmatic efforts to put solar power technology in the hands of the poor, through his social enterprise SELCO India,” according to the citation.

Latin American model

“Inspired by rural electrification in Latin America where I was travelling during my college days, I took up a thesis on Rural Electrification in India and solar lighting was part of it. It started as an experiment and is still an experiment and I attribute it to the collective work of my team at SELCO,” he told The Hindu on Wednesday over phone from the United States.

The Ramon Magsaysay Award, considered Asia's Nobel Prize, is given annually to individuals or organisations in Asia who demonstrate selfless service.

“India is in a position to be a superpower. When we have access to technology and finance, I wonder why we cannot build a sustainable model that other countries can follow,” said Mr. Hande, an IIT Kharagpur alumnus.

Sustainable energy

“The Magsaysay award in a way justifies the path of social sustainability that SELCO has always strived and fought for — in order to connect poverty alleviation and sustainable energy. The award will motivate all employees in SELCO to push forward its mission and hope to inspire many more to start various social enterprises that can help reduce poverty in the world,” he said.

He said the entire award (cash prize of $ 50,000) would be used to fund rural electrification for the poorest of the poor.

Plan to fund projects

“We also plan to fund very small entrepreneurs to take up sustainable energy projects to provide affordable renewable energy services to the poor and underserved households in rural India.”

SELCO, dealing with door-step financing and door-step service, has installed solar home lighting systems in over 1,25,000 households across Karnataka, Kerala and Gujarat. This has been carried out in partnership with regional rural banks, cooperative banks and microfinance institutions, he added.

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